What is this thing called sub modalities

What is this thing called sub modalitiesRichard Bandler tells a story of his friend who was nervous about asking someone out for a date.

Richard said “what is going on inside your head to make you so nervous?”

The friend responded, “The room goes silent and there’s a little voice that says ‘it’ll be alright’.”

“No wonder you’re nervous” Richard replied.

“Well, what is going on inside your head Richard?”

“I have the fanfare from the Superman theme music playing loud in my head. And when I’m about to ask someone out for coffee, I have a row of gospel singers rising to a crescendo with “Ooooh yaaar.”

Now this made sense to me as I could understand what Richard was saying and the impact this could have. So I decided to install a Jazz band in my head as I walked along the street. First I got the drummer going and this was followed by the double bass. Now, I have discovered that this combination can begin to affect your walk, which in itself isn’t too bad, but when the music continues to build and the brass kicks in, I found I would raise my hands aloft with fingers splayed and shimmer them. Oh yes, these were my very best jazz hands!

How do we encode the world around us?

We take the world in through our five senses known as modalities: Visual, Auditory, Feelings, Smell and Taste. Do you suspect that we use these five modalities as the raw building blocks to our thinking?

It’s plausible.

Do you also suspect that each of the modalities have their own building blocks?

Yes, it makes sense.

So if I asked 10 different people “What is your favourite food?” it is likely that each person would create a different picture of that food. Also, how each person thinks about that food would be different. So that picture can vary for the individual and it could be large, small, real life-size, moving, still, colour or black and white. Did you notice that these fine distinctions of the picture were in fact a subset of the visual modality and this therefore gives rise to the name ‘submodalities’ or the building blocks to our thinking? Some people have even referred to submodalities as the barcodes of our reality.

NB: ‘Sub’ is taken from Latin and when used as a prefix in this way it simply means “under,” “below,” or “beneath”. In this case you see that those distinctions are the lower level foundations or building blocks to our thinking.

This is not a new idea. Aristotle (385 to 322 BC) called it ‘The Form in the Mind’ where The Form is how the mind interprets the continuous stream of sensory data.

So is there a difference between how we think and what we think?

The difference between how we think as opposed to what we think

Let’s explore the difference between how we think as opposed to what we think.

For example if I said I am thinking about a car, then that is what I am thinking about.

But let me tell you how I am thinking about it. From my perception it’s fifty feet tall, black and white and has a white frame around it. Now I bet that was different from how you thought about a car.

So now here’s the thing. What if you could change the way how you think? What could you do?

Well it’s a powerful way of changing the meaning of an experience. For example you could:

  • Take something you dislike and turn it into something you
  • Take something that you are confused about and turn it into understandin
  • Turn limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs

Use your brain for a change

So how could we positively use this by considering some options?

  1. Let’s take that little voice that holds you back and change it. For a start let’s consider whose voice is it? Who does it belong to?   Is it your mum, dad, boss, a monster or even your own voice? What if you changed it to Mickey or Minnie Mouse, a sexy voice, your favourite actor or actress or adjusted it to make it high or low. Would that change the way you respond to that voice?
  2. Let’s take something different like food. When you think of a food you love how do you think about it? Is it large, moving, bright and colourful? Now take a food that you dislike. How do you think about that? Is it small, still, dim and black and white? What if you changed the food you disliked into the same encoding as like? Would you now like the food you disliked?

The promise of submodalities is to put you back in control.

Submodalities in action

Stephen King (American author of contemporary horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy) is said to be motivated to write by a scary voice coming from behind him. Not sure about you but I’d prefer a better way to be motivated.

Golfers often say they are waiting for the hole to grow in size before taking the shot.

Mozart (influential composer of the Classical era) was said to arrange his music through taste and smell, i.e. he would offset the sour of the violin against the sweetness of the cello.

What do you want to change about your thinking? Is there something you find to be particularly difficult to do? If so, identify something that you find is easy for you and consider how you think about it and how you encode it. Now change the encoding of the difficult thing to the same encoding as the easy thing, i.e. swap them over, change the meaning of the experience and notice that you now have a different perception of something that was once difficult.

Let’s quickly review what we covered:

  • We take the world in though our five senses
  • We use this as the raw building blocks to our thinking (plus language)
  • We can use this to change our thinking

You may have just realised that if you would like a rich and dynamic outer world, then it makes sense to have a rich and dynamic inner world. I highly suggest you create rich inner worlds.

Today I have decided to install the vibrant, noisy and colourful New Orleans Parade in my mind. Yay…it’s time to celebrate!

Next Step:

These are a wide range of submodalities for each of our five senses or modalities. I have compiled a handy checklist of all the key submodalities that has proven to be a handy checklist. If you would like a copy then just request one by email and I’ll send you one as a gift.

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  1. Susan king says:

    Hi John

    Hope you are well. Can you please send me the checklist as mentioned in your article about Submodalities. It is a very interesting subject.
    Susan king


    1. HI Susa,
      Good to hear from you and checklist already sent to you though digital airwaves. all the best John

  2. That’s made me think a little about people I work with. They often have thoughts in their head( it sounds like voices but they know it is thoughts when questioned). These thoughts can be telling them to do things to themselves eg self harm. I wonder if changing the voice would help? Minnie Mouse may suddenly become scary! Thanks John.

    1. Hi Pat, Yes it could and if it works can really help. I would only recommend doing something like this with the consent of a doctor just because you need to make sure the person your working with is safe and that you are safe.

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